For UTC's 2012 production of Fame, visit www.unionvilletheatre.com.
Theatre Company brings Cats
Grant Weaver, GuidingStar.ca
Unionville Theatre Company may think they’re the cat’s meow, but
they’re purrfectly right to do so!
The UTC’s 2011 production of Cats
opens this Thursday, February 24 at Markham Theatre, running to Sunday
February 27 and promises to be one of the most entertaining shows in
the youth-oriented company’s 32-year history.
The delightful story line of Cats,
the musical, is based on the whimsical poems written by T.S. Eliot for
the amusement of his godchildren and which were collected and
published in 1939 under the title “Old Possum’s Book of Practical
Cats”. The story
begins when the Jellicle Tribe of cats gather on the rooftop to begin
the Jellicle Ball at the climax of which Old Deuteronomy will choose a
cat who will pass on to the Heaviside Layer.
The unforgettable songs and music are the much-loved
compositions of the great Andrew Lloyd Webber which made his musical
adaptation of the T.S. Eliot poems one of the longest running shows
during the 80’s in London and on Broadway.
This writer fondly remembers seeing the show in Toronto during
that decade and was intrigued to hear that the Unionville Theatre
Company was bringing the show to Markham.
Young audiences of today have probably never seen the show and
people of my generation are thrilled to have a chance to enjoy it
I made a visit to UTC on Sunday, February 20 as the cast
rehearsed for the last time at their space at Crosby Arena in
Unionville and while the set building crew were hard at work
assembling the spectacular set on the stage at Markham Theatre for
What a treat to say hello to some of the wonderful and
talented young people who over the years have progressed from young
and inexperienced newcomers to become the company’s seasoned veterans
whom I first met as a grade 8 student during the company’s The Music Man in 2007, is back this year as Mr. Mistoffelees.
Now in Grade 12, and looking ahead to university next year, she
is enjoying what may be her last show for a while.
Janine Fuglerud shows her range in her incarnation this year
as Rumpus Cat. Breanna
Maloney, who learned, literally, to fly as Wendy Darling in Peter Pan in 2009, joins the feline fellowship as Electra.
Well, I could go on and on.
After all, there are 51 in the cast.
That’s a lot of cats!
Director Ron Cameron-Lewis is on his third
Unionville Theatre Company, having directed UTC’s Fame in 1997 and The King And
I in 2004. After
teaching acting and directing plays for thirty-seven years at the
Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning he was honoured
on his retirement in 2009 with the appointment as Professor Emeritus.
Over his career, Ron has directed over a hundred plays and
musicals and has traveled throughout Canada, and internationally, as
an adjudicator and will be continuing in this capacity.
In fact, he is even in demand to train adjudicators.
So, in Ron Cameron-Lewis, UTC had a wealth of experience and
accomplishment to guide them through their 2011 production.
One of the first things he did was to pitch the choice of Cats. It’s a great
ensemble piece, he told us, containing, in Andrew Lloyd Webber
fashion, so many different styles of music.
It was a chance for the younger generation to get to know a
show that had been a great hit before their time.
And, of course, it needs a big cast, just what Unionville
Theatre Company can provide, but also offers roles that keep the whole
cast on stage for much of the show.
“Unlike many shows where the chorus may come on
occasionally, and the rest of the time they are sitting in the
dressing room,” he explained, “the cat ensemble is on stage for
about 80 percent of the show. So,
there is a lot more stage time for everyone in the show.”
And, as a bonus for Ron, it was also a chance to reconnect
with the work of a great poet he was very familiar with.
“I studied T.S. Eliot in high school, at university, at
theatre school and at the University of London” he said.
Ron enjoys the challenges and satisfactions of working with a
wide range of ages. The
youngest actors are ten years of age.
Many are in their teens. But
there are also cast members drawn from a riper age and the blending of
the group into a cohesive whole is one of the elements Ron finds
“For some characters in the show,” he said, “having an
older person play the role makes it more believable, because they have to have a certain gravitas, in order to carry off
the dignity of the role. So,
there are a handful of people who are older than the teenage range and
it is lovely watching them interact.
They have really bonded very nicely.”
As he spoke of the magic of young and older actors working
together, it was interesting to hear Ron Cameron-Lewis, after such a
long and distinguished career in theatre, and the teaching of theatre,
still recalling his own first experiences as an actor.
“I know this from my own experience,” he said. “I
started out in community theatre as an eleven year old.
And one of the reasons I liked the world of community theatre
is because I was treated as myself, not as some one’s son, or
someone’s older brother. It
is nice to see the younger ones bonding with the older ones and, I
hope, learning some of the discipline of theatre from them.”
Another big decision to be made was the set.
Cats is often
performed in front of a decor that represents a junkyard but Ron,
working with set designer Simon Cantrill, opted for the much more
unusual rooftop setting.
With Cats requiring only one set, UTC’s rooftop decor will
not simply be a moveable, and therefore fragile, backdrop.
It will be a solid permanent structure that will be a big part
of the dramatic surface and space.
Designing the dance and movements is choreographer Val
Ovtcharov. Born and raised
in Russia, Val came to Canada in 1992.
His life is one of wide and interesting experiences.
He worked as an assistant choreographer with the Russian
Follies, appeared as a dancer in Celine Dion’s “Colour Of My
Love” Tour, worked as a choreographer in Brazil, and as a
choreographer for shows on cruise lines.
That last stint, lasting twelve years, was an interesting
lifestyle, he told us.
“I could fall asleep in France, and wake up in Spain,” he
But for people working for years in the field of dance,
injuries take their toll. Now,
Val works as a personal trainer and pilates instructor.
a great challenge for a choreographer. It
involves more choreography than many Broadway musicals.
All 51 cast members have steps to learn but there is a basic
core of sixteen characters who have elaborate routines to master.
In fact, this production will feature some of the most
developed choreography of UTC’s productions.
Even when the chorus is singing, there is still what Val calls
“armography”, a choreography involving movement of the arms.
The poetry of Eliot and the unique music of Andrew Lloyd
Webber make for beautiful rhythms that the choreography must capture.
“I remember when Webber’s Phantom
of the Opera came out, in the 80’s,” Val smiled.
“I was touring with a Russian company in Australia and I
heard his music. Now I am
choreographing Andrew Lloyd Webber in Unionville!”
At the end of the vocal rehearsal, the parts that needed some
touching up, Vocal
Director Cassandra Bourne gave her charges a final pep talk, exhorting
them to be fearless, to show no trepidation in singing their
parts. Remember, energy,
knows opera. She’s an
opera singer, a dramatic soprano.
She is also a music teacher and adjudicator and is Executive
Director of Arts Integra for Music and the Arts.
But today, all her work with her UTC singers is done. Tomorrow the
cast will be rehearsing at the theatre itself and concentrating on performing in interaction with the set.
I asked her about this first experience with the Unionville
“They’re an amazing bunch of people,” she beamed.
“It has been quite an honour for me.
I did not know when I accepted the position that it would be
such a great gift to me.”
Cassandra was thrilled that UTC chose Cats.
“The music is very operatic,” she said.
“It’s wonderful music.
All the numbers have such great identity, and then within a
whole, they all meld together nicely.
It’s a wonderful opportunity for the cast to get acquainted
with such a great composer of the twentieth century.”
Music Director Doug Manning, on his eleventh UTC production,
also spoke glowingly of the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Doug conducts the twenty-one musicians that are brought
together each year as the Unionville Theatre Company orchestra.
“This is probably one of the most enjoyable shows we’ve
worked on at UTC,” Doug told us.
“It’s a great challenge for the orchestra, a big challenge
vocally. This is music
with substance, feeling and emotion.
There are musical complications.
It’s an intellectual puzzle as well.”
There are almost no dialogues or monologues, there is always
music. That creates
another challenge for the orchestra.
“We’re playing almost continuously for the full length of
the show. This is a
concentration challenge, as well as a plain physical challenge.
My arm gets tired!”
As our readers probably know, Doug Manning is also the
conductor of the Markham Concert Band which has major concerts coming
up on March 6 and on May 1. So,
like all the cast, artistic team and crew, Doug is pretty busy these
While Val had put
his dance corps through a vigorous rehearsal of some key routines, it
was time for me to head down to Markham Theatre for Performing Arts to
see how the crew was progressing with the erecting of the set.
It was a hive of activity.
The workers had been there since 9 o’clock in the morning and
by late afternoon, the set had largely taken shape.
I spoke with Simon Cantrill.
When I saw him at this time last year, his crew was
test-driving the boat that would be pulled by offstage muscle along
the Chocolate River of the Willy
Wonka set. Such is the
life of a set designer!
Some past productions have involved two sets, sometimes even
three. Naturally, those
have to be easily movable. Cats requires only one decor. So,
the director and set designer were able to focus on a set that will be
truly impressive by its size and scale.
There are several levels of rooftops, and the cast will
perform on all of them. Therefore,
everything had to be made structurally sound.
is also a very interactive set.
“We tried to put as many entrances and exits on the set as
we possibly could,” Simon explained, “as well as many interactive
elements, because we don’t want any piece just setting there.
The cats need to be able to crawl over it, sprawl out on it,
slide down it, to basically use every surface.
Even the roof vents, the cats will be going in and out of
Unionville Theatre Company is very appreciative of the support
they have received from Markham Little Theatre who offered them the
use of MLT’s set construction workshop at their venue on the grounds
of Markham Museum.
Shell Lumber, now Shell Home Hardware, has been, and continues
to be a corporate
supporter of UTC and offer them a reduced rate on all materials.
This has helped make it possible to create a stunning set and
stay within budget.
When the show opens, all the stage time goes to the set, not
to the many volunteers who work months in advance, always out of the
Once again, Simon had a great group of set builders.
“I’ve got three or four helpers this year who are somewhat
in the construction industry,” he said, “but also weekend
warriors, or people with no experience at all.
People who don’t do it for a living, who work in offices, but
like to play with power tools, are often great volunteers, the most
excited about it, the most inclined to get things done.”
I had interrupted work long enough so I let Simon get back to
his crew and I ventured down to the lounge where Sharon Chandran and
Caroline Mason had laid out food and cold drinks for the crew.
You know what they say, an army marches on its stomach, and set
construction makes for a long day.
Carlene Flynn and Adrian Chandran are the producers for Cats.
This is Adrian’s first experience at producing.
“I’m learning the ropes from Carlene,” he said.
For the Chandrans, it is truly a family affair.
In addition to Sharon Chandran’s staffing the kitchen today,
she will be overseeing the green room during show week.
Daughter Tara Chandran, who shared the role of Charlie in
UTC’s Willy Wonka, is back
this year as the cat named Jemima.
And today, her eleven-year old brother Connor was busy helping
the set builders.
Needless to say, in a play in which all fifty-one actors play
the role of cats, and every cat has its own distinct identity,
costumes are going to be a big part of the show.
Clennie Fraser-Mangialardi, as costume designer, and Cathy
Edwards as costumes co-ordinator have teamed up again this year.
All the costumes are handmade, hand dyed, hand painted and
The cast rehearsed at Crosby Arena earlier today out of
costume but Carlene gave me a photographic sneak peak (see above) at what is in
store for the audience at Markham Theatre and, I can tell you, between
the spectacular set and the stunning costumes, the audience is in for
a real visual treat.
Another special note about this year’s show is that Urban
Cat Relief, an organization that seeks to make a difference in the
lives of feral and homeless cats, will have an information and
fundraising display in the lobby of the theatre.
Fittingly, one the group’s volunteers, Liisa Kallasmaa-Davis,
is a member of the cast, playing the role of Jellylorum.
Unionville Theatre Company is grateful for the corporate
support they have received. This
year the Old Firehall Confectionary is returning as a platinum
sponsor. Diamond Sponsor
is Gracious Living Garage. Gold
sponsor is CIBC, and Silver Sponsors are Chad Management Group,
Fieldstone Windows & Doors Ltd and Mercedes-Benz Markham.
Looking to the future, one of the goals of the board of
directors of Unionville Theatre Company is to find a permanent home: a
rehearsal venue of their own, with adjoining spaces for work on sets,
and for the creating and storage of costumes. They hope to find the
support that will make that possible.
There is one other conversation I want to tell you about.
Rob Cline who has been Stage Manager for all five of the UTC
that I have visited, confirmed to me that a UTC tradition was
observed again this year. On
Valentine’s Day, all the girls in the cast, by tradition, are serenaded by the
boys and presented with a rose. The ratio of boys to
girls in this show is a little lower than in previous years, so I’m
the boys, including Rob’s brother Steve (otherwise known this
year as the feral Rum Tum Tugger) had to really step up!
I have been lucky enough to witness this tradition twice.
It exemplifies the warmth and family atmosphere that surrounds
the Unionville Theatre Company.
Congratulations to everyone for the hard work they have put
into the show all these months. I
can’t wait to see the full production on stage later this week!
There will seven shows in all.
Two are matinees for kids and seniors.
There will be five shows open to the general public:
evening, February 24, Friday evening February 25, Saturday afternoon
and Saturday evening, February 26 and Sunday afternoon, February 27.
The matinees begin at 1 p.m. and the evening shows at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are available through the Markham Theatre box office
for full show details.
For more information about the Unionville Theatre Company,
Asparagus (Gus) / Growltiger - Quinton
- Rachel Levy-McLaughlin
- Bill Keir
- Cheryl Cline
- Solveig Barber **
- Julia Gartha
- Liisa Kallasmaa-Davis
- Tara Chandran
Cat) - Rebecca Townsend
- Courtney Keir
- Laura Hernandez-Merlano
- Nathan Ball
- Bill Keir
- Courtney Wilson
- Janine Fuglerud
- Steven Cline
- David Wallis
- Sydney Keir
- Sabrina Boyle
- Alexandra Houghton
- Maren Ingle
- Anna-Claire Kilcoyne-Ball
- Drew Lindsey
- Sarah Rowland
- Sydney Skynner
- Mackenzie Snell
Samantha Jewel Yim
- Louise Figliano
- Laurel Bury
- Alexandra Russell
- Morgan Potter
- Brittany Allum
- Lara Mackie
Electra / Demeter Swing*** - Breanna
- Lyndsay Taylor
- Julia Mason
- Jordan Girolametto-Prosen
- Fiona Cusack
- Isabella Gartha
- Marina Couta-Ricciarelli
- Qiana MacGilchrist
- Catherine Gardner
- Janelle Stewart
- Zoë Davidson
- Quinn McKenney
- Kathleen Giroux
- Luke Cummings-Avoledo
- Diana Lyn Ruffolo
- Natasha Choi
- Samantha Russell
- Alanna Stewart
* Characters are not
featured in original score
** Appearing with special permission of the Canadian Actors’ Equity
*** The role of “Demeter” will be played by Breanna Maloney on
Thu. Feb 24, and on Sat Feb 26 matinee
.............................................. Skye Sweet
Baritone Saxophone ..........Vittorio Polsoni
.................................... Rob Wells
............................................. Brian So
.............................................. Andrea Ottensmeyer
Trumpet .............. Gord Neill
................................. Dina E. Cox
.................................... Ernie Devenyi
............................ Ron Robbins
............................................ Hugh Wallis
.......................................... Stephen Harper
.................................... Remi Evan Marchand
................................... Milan Chvostek